Rustenburg: The American dream ran out of steam on Saturday as Bob Bradley’s team exited the World Cup with a 2-1 extra-time defeat to Ghana.
The US’s strengths throughout this tournament have been their work-rate, self-belief and determined spirit but those proved not to be enough against the African team who also knocked them out of the tournament four years ago.
Once again, a US side which twice gave up early goals in the group stage, conceded before they had even got into their stride and yet again they came back after Bradley astutely changed things around at the break.
A Landon Donovan penalty brought the Americans on to equal terms but this time it was their opponents who found the extra something to come back from a setback - Asamoah Gyan’s superb strike in extra-time giving Africa just their third ever quarter-finalists.
The Americans, who fought back for draws against England and Slovenia, couldn’t make it back one more time.
Their legs looked tired, their play was imprecise and somehow that fighting spirit that pushed them to a last minute win over Algeria just was not quite enough.
The weaknesses of Bradley’s side though go beyond conceding early goals and the draining effect of playing three days after the gruelling and emotional victory over Algeria.
The U.S midfield, with two defensive central operators and two attack-minded wide players in Clint Dempsey and Donovan, was over-run at times by the numerically stronger Ghanaian midfield.
That uneven battle was not helped by Ricardo Clark’s wayward performance, his yellow card and the subsequent need for Bradley to replace him, with Maurice Edu, in just the 31st minute.
The U.S coach addressed the problem by bringing in Benny Feilhaber to give him three genuine midfielders in the second half with Clint Dempsey moving into a full attacking role.
The floating Donovan is the main creative spark in the U.S team and in fact, with him not finding his touch, it highlighted just how much the Americans rely on him for that little bit of something out of the ordinary.
When Donovan doesn’t deliver the U.S are far too predictable going forward -- needing a sharp turn from Clint Dempsey or a burst of pace from Jozy Altidore -- neither of which were frequent features at the Royal Bafokeng stadium.
The full-backs, Jonathan Bornstein or Steve Cherundolo, were solid defensively but didn’t offer much of a threat from wide positions -- both found space on several occasions but were unable to deliver dangerous crosses or get to the byline.
Up-front, for all their efforts, the American strikers didn’t have the sharpness or the clinical finishing displayed by Ghana scorers Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gyan.
For the U.S to move from a decent qualifier from the group stages to a team that can really threaten to make the latter stages they need to address those limitations.
A midfield playmaker, a genuine winger and an international class striker would transform them from a solid, workmanlike team into something that their fans could get really excited about.
They have four years to find those players.